Which Speaker System is Best?

I am considering buying the Klipsch Reference II 5.1 home-theater speaker system, Aperion Audio Verus Grand Tower XD system, or GoldenEar Technology TritonCinema Two system. Which is the best choice? Or what would you recommend around the $4000 – $4500 price range?

– Arnel Balatbat
Auburn, WA

When it comes to speakers—and most audio products—"which is the best choice?" is pretty subjective. It depends on several factors, including your personal preferences and, in the case of speakers, the electronics driving them and the acoustic characteristics of the room in which they will be used. So I can’t say which is the best choice for you.

Ideally, you should listen to these systems for yourself to see which one you like the most. However, this is usually impractical, since there are fewer and fewer audio shops that provide such an opportunity. And even if there were a nearby shop that carried and demonstrated all three systems, you’d be hearing them in a room that is probably quite different acoustically than the room in which you want to use them. Plus, they’d likely be driven by different electronics

As a result, most speaker shoppers must rely on reputable reviews, which can often be found right here on Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity. Jim Clements reviewed the Klipsch system here (seen in the photo above), while Robert Kozel reviewed the GoldenEar system here. Secrets has not reviewed the Aperion system you mention.

Not knowing your personal taste in audio or your electronics or room acoustics, I can discuss the relative merits of these system only in very general terms. The Klipsch speakers use a horn-loaded compression-driver tweeter, which helps make the speakers highly efficient. As a result, they can produce prodigious levels with relatively little power.

As Jim concluded in his review of the Klipsch system, "These speakers are clean, dynamic and very efficient. The efficiency means that they can be driven by a moderately sized receiver. Still, the RF 82 II system has enough detail resolution to let you experience the benefits of moving up to quality separates as well."

On the other hand, horn tweeters have a particular "sound," often described as bright, which some people like and others don’t. Jim described the highs as "sparkling"—clearly, he liked the sound.

Unlike the Klipsch and Aperion systems, the GoldenEar TritonCinema Two package includes powered subwoofers in the front left and right towers rather than a separate sub. I prefer a separate subwoofer because the best location for it is often different than the best location for the main speakers.

Still, the GoldenEar system has been very well received by the audio and home-theater community. As Robert concluded in his review, "The entire system can easily be used to create a multi-purpose theater for superb performance with both music and movies, and the Triton Two Towers can certainly stand on their own as the cornerstone of an excellent two-channel system… The outstanding drivers coupled with the exceptional performance of the High Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter gives each speaker in the system the ability to reproduce sound with wonderful clarity."

The Aperion Verus Grand system is also very highly regarded; you can find many positive reviews online. Other systems to consider in your price range include those built around the KEF Q900, MartinLogan Motion 40, and Definitive Technology Mythos STS (which Piero Gabucci reviewed in a 2-channel system on Secrets here).

Aside from whether the subwoofer is separate or integrated into the front left and right speakers, another consideration is whether to get bipole/dipole or direct-radiating/monopole surrounds. Most of the systems mentioned here use monopole surrounds, which radiate sound from one set of drivers. The only exception in this list is the Klipsch system, which uses bipole/dipole surrounds.

Bipole/dipole surrounds have two sets of drivers facing forward and backward and are designed to be placed to the sides of the listening area. The two sets of drivers operate in phase (bipole) or out of phase (dipole) with each other. Both create a diffuse, ambient surround soundfield; dipole surrounds have a null region in the middle of the two sets of drivers, so they must be placed more carefully than bipoles.

A diffuse surround soundfield was appropriate in the early days of surround sound, when there was only one surround channel, and it conveyed mostly ambience. In today’s 5.1 and 7.1 soundtracks, however, there’s a lot more going on in the surround channels, and monopole surrounds provide a more precise surround soundfield so you can localize those sounds.

All speakers have a sonic signature—some are warm sounding, others are brighter. As I said at the outset, it’s always best to audition your top candidates if at all possible. In any case, listen to as many speaker systems as you can to develop your sense of what you like, and in that process, be sure to play recordings that you know well. If you can’t audition your top candidates, make the best choice you can based on trusted reviews, and try to buy from an outlet that allows returns if you’re not happy with the sound.